Tuesday, April 21, 2015

First, The Tears

And it begins.

I see my Facebook feed slowly slowly starting to change today, as friends post memorials for their brothers, fathers, and friends who have fallen in action; who have been killed in terror attacks. And I know that by tonight, my entire feed will be filled with these stories, and my heart will be overflowing with them as the tears fall.

Tonight and tomorrow are the hardest day of the year in Israel each and every year. It’s Memorial Day and everyone – and I mean everyone – has someone to remember. A few videos have popped up in the last day and I’ve sat and watched them, and remembered.

The war from last summer, Operation Protective Edge, feels far away. But the videos bring it all right back. The horror of the boys’ kidnappings, the 18 days of waiting, the entry into Gaza, the chance that any of my neighbors might lose their sons, the long nights, the scary days, the bombs and on and on and on. I watched this video, made to remember the three boys Gilad, Eyal and Naftali, and I thought I would be sick – physically sick. 

There is footage here of them dancing, singing, laughing with family and friends. They are my boys. They look just like Matan.

And a new video has just been released that focuses on the siblings - those left behind when the 67 soldiers fell last summer. It's also a tear-jerker.

And my first grader comes home from school to tell me that his teacher lost her brother years ago. Did I know? My third grader (who had the same teacher for two years) jumps in and tells the lengthy, detailed story of his death. Because that’s how we remember.

Josh and I were being interviewed recently (for reasons I’ll explain in a few days), and I was telling a story of how we ended up in Neve Daniel. I described how we came in 2001, in the middle of the Intifada, to show solidarity to our friends – to be here with them in Neve Daniel.

The interviewer turned to me, incredulous, and said, “And that’s why you came to live here? People will think you’re crazy.” He wasn’t taunting me – he knew exactly what my answer would be, but he wanted to hear it from me.

I had to pause and chuckle slightly. “Yes. That’s when we started to think of coming. Because look – if we believe that the State of Israel should exist, then who are we to sit on the sidelines? Who are we to say we’ll have our kids in America and stay in the comfort of our homes, while your children and your brothers protect us?”

Really, who are we?

I remember feeling this way every time that I would visit Israel. Soldiers are everywhere here – defending our right to exist. And who am I to believe wholeheartedly in the country’s right to defend itself and to exist – but not believing that my boys have to be part of that?

We aren’t special. Our lives aren’t more important than those of every Israeli who gets up every morning and keeps working towards the safety and security of this country.

And by putting our lot with them, by being part of this incredible unimaginable dream that is the State of Israel, we become profoundly important.

Tonight and tomorrow are times of tears and memory. We’ve added 67 IDF soldiers and officers to our list since last Memorial Day who fell during Operational Protective Edge. We’ve added Gilad, Eyal and Naftali. We’ve added Dahlia Lemkus. We’ve added so many.

So we will mourn, and cry out in anguish. And then, on the backs of their memories, tomorrow night, we will celebrate and watch my 7th grader in the annual Daglanute (Flag Dance).

And we will cry afresh – but they will be tears of hope and joy, of promise and future.

And the two days are inseparable. We are only able to have the privilege of the hope and joy, the promise and future because of those who have died defending our existence; because of those who have died waiting for a ride to go see their parents and because of those who have died simply for the fact that they are Jewish and Israeli. And we also remember those who, thankfully, didn't die. But who struggle every day as they work to heal their broken bodies.

Am Israeli Chai.

We will celebrate.

But first, the tears.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

For You and For Me

Each time I’ve found out that I was pregnant, I was thrilled – exuberant – for both you and for me. Your last pregnancy, in the Ghetto, was filled with terror and longing. And I’ve tried to replace that with only joy and anticipation.

With each birth in the safe, clean hospital, as they’ve put the healthy baby into my arms, I’ve thought of you; of that dirty miscarriage in the Ghetto. Of those babies who were never born and who you never knew. And I’ve celebrated my children’s births for both of us.

When each baby suckled at my breast, drawing deep nourishment and contentment, I thought of those moments when you tried, so desperately, to give your starving baby a few drops from your breast.

And as I bundled each baby in his cozy crib through the years, and then his bed with the cute truck pattern, I did so thinking of those nights when you lay heaped together, too many to a room with too little heat and no blankets, in the Ghetto.

As I’ve heard my children complain of afternoon hunger and I’ve offered them a snack, I’ve thought of those empty cupboards – of the days, so many days turned to months, when you did without.

And the journey East, where there were no snacks at all to offer to the little mouths, no water to quench their thirst. And no rags or towels or blankets to catch their tears.

As I experience Pesach each year and break Matza with my family, I think of your last Pesach, in the camp, trying to figure out how to make Matza out of nothing…remembering better times years before.

And as I hiked the glorious mountains in the Golan recently with my six sturdy sons, I’ve thought of your dreams, your yearning for a land of your own. For a home where you could frolic, argue, prance, laugh, love and procreate.

A few nights ago, as I lit my Shabbat candles, my candles that represent each of the Jewish souls in my house, I thought of your soul, of your family and of your candlesticks, snatched by the Nazis when they looted and burned and desecrated.

I have done all of these things, my beautiful friend, for both of us. I can’t bring you back. I can’t bring back your parents or your children…the generations that were supposed to spring from your womb that went up with you in flames.

But my salty tears drop for each and every one of them.

And my voice sings with gratitude for the chance I have been given for the both of us.

For the six chances.

The six strong bodies, vibrant hearts, dazzling sets of eyes.

The six Jewish, Zionist souls that will take both our heritages into the future; that will  multiply and multiply until they are a dizzying sea of glory.

Of our glory.


Here in Israel, in Gush Etzion, in the hills about which you only imagined, dreamed, prayed and cried.

We are here, together. 

And we will remain so.

For you, and for me.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Rolling Hills, Cows and Cookouts

Our trip to the Golan was what Pesach vacation dreams are made of. It was an unbelievable experience and we feel so privileged and blessed to have been able to enjoy ourselves for almost a week - and to do so with our good friends and their awesome kids. 

We stayed on Moshav Yonatan in a gorgeous and fabulously decorated home of acquaintances. They clearly have an artistic touch, as some of these pictures show. 
Doesn't this make you want to redo your stairs?

And Free Our Minds we did! The greenery in the Golan is hard to describe, as is the expansive space...the vast landscape that is filled with nothing but blue skies, green fields and an occasional cow or two. Our friends have a son who graduated from Sussya (where Matan goes) and he was our map reader and general tour director for the entire trip with some help from Matan and Yehuda. Every day was filled with adventure, exploration, a bit of water play and some matza and eggs thrown in. We awoke early each day to beat the crowds, packed our bags and headed out. Here are some brief highlights (I could bore you for ages, but we'll try just minutes).

On the first day, we went to a hike that was five minutes from Yonatan called Gamla. We ended up on a path that lasted for about two hours and took in some amazing scenery.
Except.....that after about ten minutes of walking, Amichai managed to fall and open up his newly stitched knee. You've got to be kidding me, I thought, as I watched the entire vacation go up in bloody knees and hopping children. But, after this cute picture, Amichai and I hobbled back to the starting point while the rest of the group continued on. When they finished, Ruth and Josh went into town and got some good medical materials and managed to patch Amichai up. We went to a maayan (*a natural flowing spring/watering hole) where the kids swam and enjoyed. We made a barbeque and relaxed in the house...and went to sleep to be ready for Day Two.

Day Two started with a CRAZY adventure as we dropped three cars at the ending point for our hike in Nahal Mezar so that we wouldn't have to backtrack. While we were dropping the cars, all of the kids and Ruth were at the starting point waiting for us. I was very worried that the kids were going to be going crazy and bored by the time that we got there, and I had to crack up when we pulled into the starting point to find..................that they were all making daisy crowns.

Silly me.

They were watching nearby cows and making crowns and were completely satisfied waiting for us. Reminder not to worry so much.

After the hike, we went to another maayan that literally appeared to be at the end of the world. 

It was down a bumpy, crazy road and then up a steep hill. I'm always amazed when we arrive at a location that I feel is just so out of the way that no one could possibly know about it - to find it packed and ready for a party. We enjoyed ourselves there, ran into Neve Daniel families and some other Sussya kids (of course) and then headed home for another night of games and food.

Day Three started off like any other day. We went to Braichat Hamshushim and Zevitan. We climbed down for about half an hour to an amazing maayan where we played and enjoyed for a bit. But I had the feeling that we were heading for a really long hike, and I was nervous as we got ready to go. My worst fear (well, one of them - I appear to have many) is that we'll end up on a long, drawn-out hike where we can't really turn back.

Fortunately, Yakir started to have a tantrum just as we were going to head out, and Josh said that maybe I should stay back with him. SOLD. I went with my instinct and watched as everyone else hiked off. Zeli got wind of the fact that I was staying behind and chose to stay with me. Suddenly, I realized however, that I had two little kids to entertain for about seven hours (they had hiked off with the only house key!) and that I knew nothing about the Golan. Nothing. I'm really not good with directions so...I took a deep breath and we played in the water for another hour, hiked back up to the starting point and had a nice lunch, and then set out in the car for an adventure. My phone charger in the car proceeded to die as I was trying to get Waze to work and I realized that I would be phoneless, and directionless, for the rest of the day.

Sounds like something out of a modern day reality TV show, doesn't it?
Fortunately, we had a lovely day. We had popsicles, ate lunch, went to a small tank exhibit where they could climb, got ice coffees (do you see the food theme here?), and went to my favorite artist colony called Aniam.
The dudes in Aniam

Yes, I had to make the kids walk around at the ceramics store and the clothing stores with their hands behind their backs, but we all had fun along the way. When the rest of the group returned to the house, they were extremely grateful that we hadn't been on the hike. Turns out they hiked for 6 very grueling hours (over 8 kilometers of up and down two mountains and valleys). Yikes!

On Day Four we went to Majdras and Braichot Erusin. We were accompanied by old Neve Daniel friends, Samara and Moshe Berger and we even enjoyed a barbecue at their home in Hispin (and a tour of their home as it's being built).

We walked to yet another maayan that day which was at least half an hour off the road and we encountered a number of wild cows on our way. The highlight of the walk (and perhaps the entire week if you ask my kids) was when my Wild-Kratts obsessed four year old confronted a cow with his stick, looked him in the eye and yelled "Come on Wild Bison!" I screamed, as he made eye contact with the cow and got ready to fight, and yelled for Josh to pull him away FAST. The giggles of the rest of my boys could be heard for hours as they recreated the seen and mimicked Yakir's taunt of the wild cow.

One of many, many cows.

Hanging with the big guys.

We also made sure to make time for relaxation, hanging out and snuggling back in the house.

Avital entertaining the boys.

Always time for fountain fun!

Cooking friends!

Popsicle time!

Planning the next day's adventures....where will we end up?

Loving Bamba!

Ruth, Chaim and their kids packed up on Thursday morning and headed back to Neve Daniel for the last days of Pesach. We had decided to stay and to enjoy more time in the Golan. The weather changed dramatically that morning and we were FREEEEEZING. We had proper clothes with us, but we were just freezing. We went on a brief walk to see a water fall and then to a really cool outdoor volcano exhibit called the Avital Volcanic Park. The Golan was created partly by volcanic activity and the tour and exhibit took us through the history in an interesting and interactive way.

To get warm, we went to lunch in Aniam. A big treat, since we had been treating the kids to...hard boiled eggs, matza and cream cheese in our cooler all week. The kids had a blast eating deliciously made Pesach food..and even getting silly with the warm towels offered at the end of lunch. We walked around Aniam and watched the artisans at work.

And then we returned to Yonatan for two wonderful (although a bit rainy and cold!) days of chag (holiday). We played oodles of fun games owned by our hosts and had a wonderful time capturing our kids in one location. We often find on holidays and weekends that the kids are so busy and have so many friends and activities that it's hard to get them in one place. We loved being away for the holiday and feeling like we were all together with nowhere to run. 

And if you've never seen Rory's Story Cubes, you should check them out. I'm ordering mine tonight.

Back to real life again, but hopefully we all have fond memories of rolling hills, endless expanses and energetic hikes in the back pocket of our memories...until next year!